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on 19 January 2017
Already read the 2nd book and ordered the 3rd - this is really good and it's not what you expect based on the description.
The key character - Jant - is one of the immortals who can fly. But he's also addicted to some nasty drugs and is overall a very complex character. What's nice about the book though is that none of the normal tropes apply. The drugs make Jant worse at his job but it's not some existential issue - he just knows he should stop at some point. God is mentioned in passing but he/she is just a background noise. The enemy is a blank slate - so there's no moral issue raised by the battle - the good guys get to be the good guys without being morally superior - they're just fighting these things that have turned up. It all just feels way more real than the normal fantasy structure. Lessons are not learnt but characters develop. Its great.
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on 7 May 2015
Steph Swainston has written an excellent series of books in a fantastical world. Highly enjoyable and in some ways thought provoking, together with some more gritty aspects. A really good read.
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on 29 November 2015
I found this hard to get into -- some really interesting ideas but I just wasn't really drawn in by any of the characters.
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on 13 January 2013
I have really enjoyed this series, the concept setting locations and characters combine with some great story telling. A great adventure which grips from the first page to the last.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 July 2008
a fantasy novel. running roughly 370 pages, telling the story of jant. an immortal man. who can fly. and who lives in a world where humanity are at war with an impacably hostile race of insects. humanity is losing the war. and conflicts between humans may do for the human race faster than the insects.

this tries to be rather high class fantasy with a setting radically different from the norm. the settings and the character names are weird, as in keeping with this style of fantasy.

but a potentially interesting idea and world frankly never really comes to life. the prose isn't bad but it never grips. and neither do any of the characters. the plot doesnt really amount to much and never seems to get going, and none of the characters ever grab.

this does on occasion almost get interesting, not least during the depictions of the fighting with the insects, but it never really grabbed. my overall reaction was so what? and there's a rather open ended ending. presumably for sequels, as I gather there are other books that follow on from this. I can't say I'm desperately inspired to try them.

be advised it's not a book for the young, as there are a few bits of adult language and situations
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on 23 December 2006
After a while, one grows tired of elves and orcs and barbarians and the typical fantasy stories. Steph Swainston has invented a new and unique world with none of the normal suspects in it, with great imagination that still leaves a lot to the readers to ponder.

She creates a world with mortals and immortals, where the immortals must earn their place by being the best at what they can do: the best swordsman, the best sailor, the best archer. Immortality is betowed upon them by the Emperor San...where he got the ability to do this is one of the mysteries of the series.

Jant Comet is one of the immortals, called the Messenger because of his unique ability to fly. Because he is the Emperor's Messenger, we get to see the politics of the realm, and even see Jant change a few things.

The Emperor's realm is at war with the Insects, who look like bugs many times the size of humans and who build paper nests out of counqueorer lands. Where the Insects have come from is yet another of the mysteries in the book and series.

Jant is an addict to a substance called Cat. Ms. Swainston's portrayl of Jant's addiction, in this book and the next, is dead on...she must have known or studied addicts quite closely.

Jant's addiction gives him entrance into a parallel world, a world he and we the readers are not sure is real until we explore it further. Then it becomes tied in with the Emperor's world and the Insects.

Ms. Swainston mixes political intrigue (immortals battling each other for position; non-immortals vs. the Emperor; mortals vying to become immortals), war (vividly imagines human vs. insect fighting scenes, shades of Stormship Troopers!), addiction and Jant's journey of self-discovery into an excellent fantasy novel. As an author, what I most admire about the writing is her ability to not tell the reader what is going on (at least for the big stuff) but to let us figure it out. The novel held me in suspense till the end, made we eager for the next (which is equally good).

Highly recommended.
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on 16 October 2007
Normally I stay well away from fantasy as most is formulaic. This book (and the others in this series) stand head a shoulders above most fantasy writing.

At the start I found Swainstons style took a little getting used to, as it seemed to wander all over the place. It becomes apparent that everything is there for a purpose and I got drawn into a small but perfectly formed world. Indeed, I started the book over a year ago, and stopped about 30 pages in because I couldn't get into it. Recently decided to have another crack at it and stuck at it this time.

Swainston keeps multiple plots moving while revealing the absolute minimum of information at any moment. Every morsel has to be squeezed out of the book and savoured. It's bit like a difficult journey, where just as you're beginning to wonder if it's worthwhile, you turn a corner and there's something new and different that makes that days travels worthwhile and you just know that tomorrow has more unexpected delights in store

The work of a writer on top of her game.
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on 9 March 2008
Having read many different fictions, Fantasy , Sci Fi, Murder mystery amongst others I rarely try to analyse books. Generally I just go with feel of the story and how quickly it manifests itself in my mind visually. As an idea of what kind of thing I read (which I hope helps others get a feel for if they might like this), Heinlein, Asimov, Tolstoy, Brooks, Tolkein, Reilly, Forsyth, Pratchett, Wells.
With TYoOW the world was both imaginative, beautifully colourful and wonderfully written. I loved the way Ms Swainston manages to encapsulate what's happening so decriptively without being overly verbose. Some people try to describe everything down to how many petals are on the flower between the rock on the prarie in the town in the state in the country that someone is thinking about...boring and unnecessary, most of the time. This book is concise, slick and refreshing. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to get stuck into 'No present like time'!
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on 6 May 2004
Swainston has a direct style of storytelling that doesn't let you relax and draws you in to a world not so far from ours. This world, though, is peopled by fantastic beasts and great characters, and you cannot help but relate to the Immortals - Tornado, Jant, Lightning and the rest - as they veer between the internal politics of the Court and the wild and terrible battles raging outside. Jant, flying man, hero, lover and junkie is destined to become one the memorable few fantasy creations - like King's Roland of Gilead, more than human but all too fallible when he needs a fix or spies something sexy but off-limits. More to come - I hope so.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 March 2008
Steph Swainston is the author of three books set in the Fourlands, a series she collectively calls The Castle Series. Two more are forthcoming. The Year of Our War is the story of Jant, the Messenger, one of fifty immortals who serve the Empire, a large nation covering most of a (fairly small) continent which is under threat of destruction from the Insects, a vast, endless horde that dominates the northern part of the landmass. Jant is a drug addict, but with good reason: the drug he takes, cat, transports him into the Shift, another world where some of the dead souls of his own world go, and where he has vital allies in the war against the Insects.

This is a pretty difficult book to review. Just when I was certain that I was going to end up hating it, the story would take off, the characters and the writing would click and I'd end up enjoying it. Then something else would happen and it would end up annoying me again. This pattern repeated itself throughout the book until it finally reached a highly ambiguous conclusion (there is no resolution, the book just stops with less of a climax than many of the standard chapter endings). To some extent it was a frustrating book, but I think its positives outweigh it problems.

The writing is quite interesting, with a sense of bright-eyed whimsy which is often at odds with the subject matter (drug abuse, a soldier getting his stomach torn out, a violent sex scene) in a manner not entirely removed from Jack Vance (although Swainston doesn't push it quite as far as Vance). The strange mixing of time and space in the book - this is a medieval world with T-shirts and jeans and added steampunk moments - is much more reminiscent of Mieville, which I get the impression is what Swainston was aiming for (and was successful, given her acknowledged place in the New Weird pantheon and Mieville's endorsement on the cover). The anachronisms and incongruities were initially rather jarring, but you rapidly get used to them and assume there is some kind of explanation for them.

The characters are all reasonably well developed, with the immortals coming across as a mix between superheroes, Greek legends and ordinary people in over their heads. Swainston crams a surprising amount of plot into the book's 360 pages, such as the tortured family history of Lightning, the Archer, and the machinations of Swallow, the musician-governess of Awndan, as she attempts to become immortal herself. These backstories give the characters weight and depth that informs their actions and doesn't feel incongruous, which is quite an achievement. Less successful is the attempt to give Jant himself development, with his flashbacks coming in disjointed scattershot, making it difficult to put together the pieces of his life and find out how he came to be who he is. Also, because Jant is exceptionally emo a lot of the time (being immortal , one of the fifty most important people in the world and the only person alive who can fly is extremely traumatic, obviously) and spends much of the book either urgently wanting a fix or going through cold turkey, he is a hard protagonist to like, which is a problem in a first-person narrative.

The climax also leaves much to be desired. This is very much the first part of a series and not a self-contained novel at all. As well as Jant's under-developed backstory, there are numerous storylines and characters left hanging in mid-air. I assume that these points are addressed in the sequel, No Present Like Time.

The Year of Our War (***) aspires to be different and certainly achieves that. Swainston is clearly a talented writer and I look forward to investigating her other work, but at the same time this debut novel is rough around the edges and the ending doesn't really justify the build-up.
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